Art Lander’s Outdoors: From film to digital, remote cameras have been used by hunters for ages

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This is part one of a two-part series on the evolution of remote cameras from the film era to today’s infrared digital scouting cameras, and how trail cameras are used by deer and wild turkey hunters.

Using remote cameras to capture images of wildlife dates back much farther in the past than probably imagined. In the infancy of film photography in the late 19th century, innovative wildlife photographers found ways to capture images without actually being behind their large format view cameras.

Trip wires and other crude mechanical devices were used to click the shutter, providing a glimpse into the private moments of animals in their native habitat.

Infrared digital scouting cameras — trail cameras — are used by hunters to monitor game animal populations day and night, and pattern daily movements. Images are stamped with the date, time, and moon phase. (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

The first roll film debuted in the 1880s and was perfected as cellulose acetate “safety film” by 1908.

The small, portable single-lens reflex camera (SLR) was introduced in the 1930s, but it was not until the 1950s that the most popular brands — Pentax, Nikon and Cannon — came into wide use in the U.S.

SLRs use a mirror and prism, allowing the photographer to view through the lens, and see what would be captured on film. Kodak’s classic color film, Kodachrome, become the favorite 35 mm film with wildlife photographers.

Concealed in camouflaged blinds, they used telephoto lenses to “get close” to animal subjects, often with spectacular results of color and composition, because of the foreshortening perspective of the long lenses.

Sports Photojournalism Advances Remote Cameras

The desire to capture the action of sporting events probably did more to advance the sophistication of remote cameras than any other use in photography. Sports photojournalists wanted to put cameras and flashes where they physically couldn’t be, to yield dramatic views of the action.

State-of-the art sports photography was on display at the finish line at Churchill Downs on a Kentucky Derby Saturday in the mid-1970s.

The Nikon F2 camera was the professional’s choice of the day, when equipped with a battery-powered motor drive that advanced film. As post time for the big race approached, apertures and shutter speeds were adjusted (the F2 was a manual camera), and lenses were pre-focused for the finish line.

There were wide angle lenses on the cameras positioned on small tripods under the rail, and long lenses on the banks of cameras clamped to the metal poles supporting the steward’s stand.

The photographers stood back from the rail, and triggered their cameras remotely as the field thundered down the stretch and approached the finish line.

Each camera, or often banks of cameras, were attached to a long cord with a push button on its end. When the photographer pushed the button, an electrical circuit was completed, and the motor drive camera shot frame after frame of film until the roll was exhausted.

Beginning in the 1980s there were steady technological advances in the use of electronics in cameras, including auto exposure and auto focus. By the 1990s, photographers could trigger remote cameras and flashes wirelessly, using radio signal devices.

Digital Revolution’s Impact on Photography

The digital revolution turned the photographic world upside down.

By the early 2000s professional photographers had fully embraced digital cameras, completely abandoning film. Images captured by digital cameras are digitized and stored as computer files on SD (Secure Digital) cards, which are about the size of a postage stamp.

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The photographer could view the image in the camera or the SD cards could be quickly and easily removed from the camera, and inserted into a card reader, enabling the photographer to view and edit images on a laptop computer in the field.

Digital photography has other advantages, too. Since there is no time spent developing film, the finished images can be e-mailed to the newspaper sports desk, magazine editor or client in a matter of minutes.

Today’s Trail Camera

Digital technology set the stage for the development of the trail cameras popular today.

They are used by hunters to monitor game animal populations day and night, and pattern daily movements from bedding to feeding areas.

Infrared digital scouting cameras like the Wildgame Innovations Terra 8 are value-priced (about $50), small, noiseless, powered by eight AA batteries and can store hundreds of images on a 32 GB SD card.

Passive infrared sensors detect motion and heat, triggering the camera to take high-resolution 8 MP JPEG images or AVI-digital video.

Images are stamped with the date, time, moon phase and photo count. The Terra 8 has a flash range of 60 feet, with 21 high-intensity infrared LEDs. The camera includes two bungee cords for easy mounting on trees or fence posts.

For more information on Wildgame Innovations trail cameras visit their website.

Next week: How to use trails cameras on your hunting property, to find and pattern deer and wild turkeys, plus tips on mounting cameras and retrieving images.

1Art Lander Jr.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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